Async Chat and The Rise of Bots

It’s quite fair to say that Slack, the team collaboration service that launched not that long a go, is on a roll. It has become the choice for asynchronous collaboration among tech companies, and their rich suite of integrations makes it even more appealing.

They recently released a new Real Time Message API to hook up your own clients via WebSockets to a team - but that’s not the most significant part (IMHO).

They’re making it easier to build your own little bots that connects to a Slack team and listens for specific commands, then does its magic and reports back - it’s like your very own Business Command Prompt, only this is for your actual business and not just your computer.

Slack already has a great deal of integrations to install for your team, and they’ve had incoming and outgoing web hooks and slash commands for some time - but none of these were based on real time communication - although a simple web hook shouldn’t be a showstopper.

A quick way to setup your own bot, is to use Github’s Hubot which has a ton of scripts that you can easily add to your own bot via package.json.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how simple bots with simple commands can be used to optimise business workflows. In the tech industry, we’ve all seen build and deployment servers reacting to commands and building, testing and deploying the latest branch for release.

But outside the tech industry, it seems to be a little way off. Not everyone likes the idea of a command prompt, but prefer something a little more visual. Although, words and copywriting is interface design - and chatting is just words, so given the right words are being used the interface should be pretty clear.

But the chat messages is also a log of what they’re doing. Not only a place to receive commands, but a place to report back what they’re working on.

Over time, you might get used to pushing out commands - after all it just communicates in an almost natural language, and it can respond so that it actually makes sense.

Say you have a bot keeping an eye on your incoming leads from your website. Whenever a new lead is created, when someone submits your contact form, a bot could take that information and score the details using tools such as Full Contact, Rapportive or Klout, to give you a clear idea if this request is from a big company, how well connected the person is on social networks or if you’ve done business with them before.

Instead of sending e-mail with the information, the bot would report to the chat room for anyone to see and further discuss. It becomes a value added to the conversation about the work you already do, how excited wouldn’t it be to told that this potential customer is well connected online and from a large company? (Not that large is any measure of leverage, profit or a good client)

Martin H. Normark

Product and UX Hacker. Web and iOS developer.

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